As we continue our series of interviews in travel media, co-founder of Matador Travel Ross Borden sits down to answer questions on creating their rapidly expanding site, The Traveler’s Notebook, the Bounty Board , his personal travel preferences, and much, much, more. Enjoy!
Written Road: How did you first become involved in travel writing/publishing?
Ross Borden: Matador began as a meeting place for like minded travelers. I first got interested in publishing professionally written and photographed stories when I realized how many amazing people are out there doing incredible things.
WR: What was your first break?
RB: We have raised some capital to improve upon the site and pay our writers and photographers but I’d say my first big break was running into and eventually hiring our editor, David Miller. David has taken ownership of the travel publishing section of Matador–our online magazine, Traverse–and not only can he sniff out great content/talent, but every writer has told me he’s the best editor they’ve ever worked with.
WR: What has been the biggest help to your career?
RB: I would say just simply, pursuing my passion has been the biggest help in shaping my career. I love Monday, week after week, because I’m doing something I’m passionate about and at Matador that means publishing great content as well as trying to make the world a better place, one small community at a time, so that feels great. I used to work in a cubicle making cold calls all day, selling business software to people who didn’t want to talk to me. Needless to say, I hated my job. I took the leap and followed my passion and taking that risk has paid off in spades. I love my job now and I don’t know too many other people who can say that at 26.
WR: Who have been your biggest influences?
RB: Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, is someone I really look up to. I think he’s found a really good balance between success and making a positive impact in the real world. He looks at business as a powerful tool for creating change, which I think is logical but admirable in a world too concerned with the bottom line. That’s the direction we’re taking Matador.
WR: How would you define Matador?
RB: Matador is a place for people to discover over and over again, why travel is so special and why travel matters. That’s the furthest I can break it down.
We’re an online magazine, a social network and an upcoming blog network. We hire amazing writers and photographers. We connect thousands of travelers and grassroots non-profits. There are experts, blogs, maps, NGOs, writers, articles, classifieds–Matador is so many things. But what it boils down to, is the plain fact that there is so much out there to explore. Our community provides the tools, information and inspiration to research, plan and execute amazing trips. You just have to dive in.
WR: Where did the idea for Matador come from
RB: The basic idea for Matador came from traveling and meeting people on the road. You realize, during an extended couple months of travel, just how many interesting people there are constantly buzzing around the planet. We wanted to provide the tools for thousands of these people to connect and collaborate over their passions and share with each other, the remarkable things that they’ve discovered off the beaten path. The community has evolved quite a bit since then, but that was the basic idea it started with.
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WR: The Bounty Board has been quite a hit for travel writers, particularly several Written Road readers who have mentioned to me that they have received paying gigs from the board. Any plans for expansion of the board?
RB: Yes! I’m glad you asked…We are actually launching a blog network in 2008. The first of these sites is already live: The Traveler’s Notebook. We’ve already been hiring writers for the Notebook, but as we launch the other blogs, we’ll need to hire FOUR TIMES as many writers to satisfy the demand for quality content, which means that our BB posts will quadruple.
Also, the rest of the travel writing community has taken note of the Bounty Board’s success and other publications both on and off-line, have begun to post paid writing assignments on the board. We want the Bounty Board to become a global watering hole for talented writers/photographers and a place where editors from up-and-coming magazines can find the most vibrant talent the Web has to offer.
WR: Matador has always been a paying site in some form since the beginning, right? I know a lot of websites out there are looking to build their content for free as they grow, was there ever any doubt that Matador wouldn’t pay?
RB: Yes. We have believed from the beginning that it’s not fair to ask the most talented writers to submit their work for free. Matador will continue to pay writers for their best work and as we grow and develop a business model around our network of sites, we’ll be paying writers more and more for what they share with us.
WR: What are you looking for from new writers?
RB: Fresh ideas. Fresh perspectives. Original stories, ‘top ten’s’ and ‘how to’s’ that our readers can actually learn from and apply to their own travels/lives. We think a lot of mainstream travel media is boring. Check out the stuff we publish in Traverse, our online magazine and on the Notebook and you’ll get a good idea of what we’re looking for. We also want to hear ideas from writers. We don’t just publish pieces that WE think of and put up on the Bounty Board. We love hearing what young writers think would make a great story so please come pitch us!
WR: Now you have two ezines through Matador, the Notebook and Traverse. What are the differences between the two?
RB: Traverse has always been a place for writers to submit detailed travel narratives and these pieces—because of their detail—end up being longer. The Notebook and the other blogs we’re launching will be dedicated to shorter <500 word pieces, including lots of ‘top ten’s’ and ‘how to’s.’
WR: What is your typical day like now?
RB: Hectic. Wearing lots of different hats and working with everyone from my editor to interested advertisers and investors. We want to expand Matador so that it’s a household name in travel and publishing and we have great plans but execution is going to take a lot of work and a lot of focus.
WR: How much of the year are you traveling?
RB: Not as much as I’d like. I’m headed to Colombia in Feb for two weeks of adventure and I’m going to meet up with some Matadorians there who really know their way around the country so I’m psyched for the trip.
WR: How many profiles are now listed at the site? How many articles?
RB: We have almost 5000 members in the community now and tens of thousands of unique visitors every month so I think our writers are getting tons of great exposure.
WR: Where is Matador headed in the future?
RB: Onward and upward. We’re going to get a lot bigger, launch four more sites in 2008 and hire hundreds of new writers to create vibrant content for our blogs. We’ll also be expanding the tools on the mother site at MatadorTravel.com so that our users can connect and collaborate over everything from trip advice to helping out grassroots organizations.
WR: Do you have any advice for young, blossoming travel writers out there? What is the best way to begin a career in travel writing?
RB: Get published and don’t buy into the illusion that you can become a travel writer overnight who “gets paid to travel and write about your experiences”. That said, I have seen first hand, young writers on Matador who are making it happen. Tim Patterson is one example–the kid is a rising star and will undoubtedly become a famous travel writer. I would encourage young aspiring writers to reach out to some of our most successful writers and ask them what has worked for them. There is a lot of talent on that list and I would bet that many of them will go on to have amazing careers in travel writing. Whatever you do, Matador is a great place to start.
WR: Favorite place?
RB: Buenos Aires? Rio? New York? SF? Paris? Hong Kong? Madrid? I can’t pick one, but those are some of my favorites…
WR: What is the one item you cannot travel without?
RB: I would have said i-pod a couple months ago but now I’d have to say my laptop. I took it around the world with me a couple months ago and I don’t think I’ll ever travel without it again.